Our Complete Guide to Champagne: Selecting, Serving, and Sipping
Don't know the difference between champagne and sparkling wine? Want to learn how to safely pop a bottle of bubbly? Read our champagne guide and you'll be an expert in no time.
How to Select a Bottle of Champagne
Champagne is perfect for celebrating -- its light and sparkling quality makes it a go-to drink for special and festive occasions. Here are a few things you should know before choosing a bottle of bubbly:
Champagne is different from sparkling wine. Champagne with a capital "C" can only come from the Champagne region in France, which means it can come with a hefty price tag. However, champagne (with a lowercase "c") from other areas -- usually called sparkling wine -- is moderately priced and can be just as good. To spot a just-as-good-sparkler, look for "Methode Traditionelle" on the bottle's label. This means the sparkling wine has been made the same way true Champagne is instead of with the time-saving Charmat process, which involves bulk fermentation in tanks and results in a lesser quality wine.
Look for a few cues on the label to help you determine if a sparkling wine is dry or sweet.
- For dry champagne: look for "brut" on the label
- For dry champagne that's a little sweet: look for "extra dry" or "extra sec" on the label
- For sweet champagne: opt for Moscato, a white wine that has a softer bubbly quality that pairs well with desserts
Editor's Tip: If you see "vintage" printed on your bottle of champagne along with the year, it means that particular sparkling wine was made with what the winemaker considered to be extraordinary grapes. However, if your bottle doesn't have a year listed, it doesn't make it inferior. In fact, when winemakers combine grapes from a variety of years, it allows them to maintain a consistent quality and taste.
How to Serve Champagne
For the best bubbles in your champagne, serve it cold (around 45 degrees). To get the champagne to this temperature, chill it in the refrigerator for 3 hours, or pack the bottle in a bucket, tub, or sink filled with ice and water for 30 minutes. Once the bottle is open, keep the champagne cold in a bucket filled with a mix of ice and water.
How to safely open a bottle of champagne: While most people think opening champagne involves popping a cork, the cork should ease out of the bottle with a whisper. Here's how to do it:
- Remove the foil from the wire cage that surrounds the cork.
- Hold down the cork with a cloth napkin or kitchen towel and twist the tab to loosen the wire cage.
- Tilt the bottle away from you at a 45-degree angle to allow space for the bubbles to expand.
- Grasp the cork, with the cloth still over the top of the bottle, with one hand and gently twist the bottle (not the cork) with the other; let the pressure in the bottle gently force out the cork.
- Pour the champagne into tall glasses slowly.
Editor's Tip: Champagne and sparkling wines have a lot of pressure inside the bottle, so if allowed to escape, a cork can be dangerous. When opening a bottle, be sure to keep hold of the cork, never point the bottle at anyone, and never leave a bottle half-opened because it could explode later.
Recommended Champagnes and Other Sparkling Wines
Still unsure which bubbly to choose? Here's a list of our top choices for brands of champagne, organized by price.
Bargain Bottles (under $10): If you want to get cheap (but not too cheap!) champagne, look for Italian and Spanish sparkling wines. Spanish Cava (Freixenet Brut) or Italian Prosecco (Mionetto, Lamberti) are great choices. For sweeter sparklers, try a Moscato d'Asti (La Spinetta, La Serra, or Elio Perrone).
Inexpensive Bottles ($10 - $20): Our recommendations for slightly more expensive bottles include Chandon Riche Extra Dry, Piper Sonoma Brut, Sofia Blanc de Blancs, and Lindauer Brut.
Moderately Priced Bottles ($20 - $30): Price doesn't always mean better quality, but if you're willing to splurge on bubbly, go for Laurent-Perrier Brut L-P, Roederer Estate Anderson Valley Brut, or Domaine Carneros Brut by Taittinger.
Before your next party, stock up on chic wine and champagne glasses.
Did you know that champagne bottle sizes vary? Most stores stock a 750-millileter bottle that's the same size as the standard bottle of wine. (This is enough to fill about six champagne flutes.) But some producers supersize their bubbly packages and offer:
- Magnum: 2 standard bottles
- Jeroboam: 4 standard bottles
- Rehoboam: 6 standard bottles
- Methusaleh: 8 standard bottles
- Salmanazar: 12 standard bottles
- Balthazar: 16 standard bottles
- Nebuchadnezzar: 20 standard bottles